Dealing with Strange Housebreaking Issues

Cruzmisl writes to me about some strange housebreaking issues: “I took my 4 month old Great Dane out for a long walk in the woods today and everything was great. We were gone an hour and everything was as usual. She came in the house, took a drink from her bowl upstairs and then went downstairs to take a drink from her other water bowl. Why she does that I have no idea but I follow her down anyway. I don’t trust her when she’s out off my sight and I like to wipe her mouth (she hates that though). Once she’s done drinking she plopped on her bed in front of the fireplace.

It seemed like a good time to check my email so I grabbed my laptop. All of a sudden she’s barking/moaning and she’s sitting up, urinating on her bed! I just had her outside for over an hour and she pulls this stunt? I grabbed her by her collar and told her “outside” and put (dragged) her in the backyard.

I’m a little confused though because she hasn’t pee’d in the house in months. She’s old enough now that she can hold it for 8-10hrs at night (in her crate) so I’m curious what spawned this. Later on that night she pee’d on the carpet while my wife wasn’t looking. It was only a little bit though.

Any ideas?”

Adam replies:

Hi, J:

She’s testing you. (And also: Your prior corrections probably weren’t motivational enough.)

She may test you once or twice, even if you do everything right… though Month 9. That doesn’t mean she’s not housebroken. It just means that: She’s still a young dog, and either by accident or by “test” — you can have this occur, albeit infrequently. The trick is to make sure that she gets a meaningful correction, when she does it. As you’ve found: Pulling on the flat collar isn’t going to do it.

Have you gone through the Secrets book and the housebreaking in a hurry video, yet?

– Adam.

J responds:

I skimmed through that section because she was housebroken a week after we picked her up so I didn’t bother. I’ll go back and revisit those sections. Any other advice other than whats already contained there? It seems more of a defiance angle more than anything else.

Adam replies:

No, it’s not defiance. The dog’s mind doesn’t work that way.

You’re expecting too much from a 4 month old puppy. Housebreaking a dog this young isn’t a “scratch it off the list” and move on, type of behavior. At this age, it’s going to be more of a: We’re 99% there, but there still may be some accidents in the coming months, so I need to be 100% vigilent.

And again: If you’re not using the pinch collar, your corrections probably aren’t motivational, so you may have that working against you, too. Eliminating in the house needs to be so uncomfortable that she actively wants to hold it and tell you to take her out.

Is Eight Weeks-Old Too Young To Crate Train Your Dog?

Hi, Adam: IĀ got an 8 week old puppy from a person that just let him run free in his house. I am assuming that the puppy was free to potty any where and it was just cleaned up instead of working on training him to go in a certain place. Now enter me who is trying to crate and potty train. I put him into his crate and he sits there and whines, cries, and scratches at the door. I know 8 weeks is young but he potties everywhere and anywhere, doesn’t matter, in the pen or on the floor. I take him outside and he sits at my feet whining until I bring him in and then he potties. I just purchased your book and am reading it but I need help fast and there is just so much to absorb. Any advice is greatly appreciated. I just got a new house and can’t have him going everywhere.

Adam replies:

Hi, Gini:

No, it’s never too late to start. In fact, we recommend that you start as soon as you get your new dog– regardless of his age.

In the beginning, expect it to take 2-4 days, before the puppy acclimates to the crate.

Watch these videos. It’s a good “quick start”

You might want to focus on this department, too:

Some of the articles jump back and forth, between mentioning “adult” and “puppy”. I’m trying to clean this up. We hired a search engine optimization company, and they ended up doing more harm than good. I think you’ll get the general idea, though. If you have further questions, just post a new question at the top of the forum. We’re here to help you.

– Adam.


Help With House Training Her Dog

Skahler writes to me:

Hi, I just downloaded the secrets book yesterday and am just about finished. We are having some issues with going in the house. I am home during the day with our 1 year old lab mix dog. We have only had her about a week and a half. I bought Poochie Bells and am trying to teach her to use those when she needs to go out. One problem is she rings the bells even if I know she doesn’t need to go out to go to the bathroom. I want to know if the bells are even a good idea, and how can we teach her to let us know when she needs to go out if we don’t use the bells? I take her out every time she rings the bells, which is becoming a pain. She peed on the carpet this morning and I am not sure when. I keep such a close eye on her I don’t know when she did it. My other question is how do I correct her for this, isn’t it too late since I am not sure when it happened, and how do I correct it?

Adam replies:

Hi, Skahler:

Take a look a my video, “HouseBreaking In A Hurry” (divided into five part)

I’m going to copy and paste your post, and comment in-between:

SK: One problem is she rings the bells even if I know she doesn’t need to go out to go to the bathroom. I want to know if the bells are even a good idea, and how can we teach her to let us know when she needs to go out if we don’t use the bells?

>> Adam replies: I don’t think they’re a good idea. More hassle than it’s worth. She’s old enough to hold it, until you let her out. (At regular intervals). Also– as a general rule: If she gets super-animated and is ripping around the house, that’s probably a good indication she needs to go out, too. But normally, after a few days– if you put her on a set feeding and watering schedule (no free feeding!) you’ll have an idea as to about how frequently she needs to go outside. Once every four hours or so is typical. Many dogs can hold it, even longer.

I take her out every time she rings the bells, which is becoming a pain.

>>Adam replies: Agreed.

She peed on the carpet this morning and I am not sure when.

>>Adam replies: This is a handler error. You need to keep one eye on her LIKE A HAWK if she’s not in the crate or outside. Otherwise you’re being inconsistent.

I keep such a close eye on her I don’t know when she did it.

>> Adam replies: If you need to, keep her on a leash, and attach the leash to your belt, until you’re more confident about your ability to keep her from eliminating in the house, without getting a correction.

My other question is how do I correct her for this, isn’t it too late since I am not sure when it happened, and how do I correct it?

>> Adam replies: See above.

Does what I’ve written make the process easier to understand for you? If not, keep asking me questions until it’s crystal clear. For the dog, it’s a process of:

1. Getting her conditioned to eliminate outside, where she gets both relief, and praise for doing it in the right spot.


2. The contrast with #1 and getting a correction for doing it in the house.
(Plus the other elements I talk about in the video).

Keep me posted,


Getting a timid dog out of her crate to potty

JMDay writes to me: “Hi – we adopted a shelter dog two weeks ago. She is a lab mix (emphasis on mix) and is extremely timid. According to the shelter, our girl is about 4-5 months old and was dumped in a bar ditch along the highway. She had lived at the shelter for a couple of months before we got her. Our vet has checked her out and says she is healthy. My husband and I are attempting to crate train her and want the crate to be her “safe” place. The challenge is getting her out of the crate to go outside to potty. There are no children in the house and we have another 10 year old dog that virtually ignores her. She will allow us to approach her and pet her. She “cowers” in the corner when we attempt to remove her. We know we must be very patient and kind, but we’re frustrated that getting her in or out of the crate is an ordeal without picking her up. Any suggestions… and thanks! ”

Adam replies:

It’s not an issue of being “patient and kind”. We already know you’re that kind of person, because you adopted a dog like this in the first place.

Here’s the real secret to helping a timid dog get over their timidity: You ignore the timidity. You treat them just like you would a normal dog. If she won’t get out of the crate, you call her name and then immediately reach in and BRING HER OUT. She will gain confidence by DOING. Doing activities.

But she needs you to make her do these activities. That means: You make her do it, you don’t “ask her” to do it, and then wait to see if she has the confidence to do it or not. You make her do it, and then after she does it a couple of times, she pokes her head up toward the sky and says to herself, “Hey– I just did that!”

This builds confidence in your leadership, too.

The trick is to make it “no big deal.”

When you make her sit, do not allow her to droop her head down. Sit means: Sit with your head held high.

You make the body do it, and the dog’s mind will follow.

Make sense?

Please keep me posted of your progress.


Urine Marking – Is it appropriate?

By Lynn –

While no one’s yet confronted me about it, I’m sure I get a lot of mean looks from people behind curtains or those who are just really good at concealing their facial expressions when it comes to letting dogs mark while on a walk. Why? The short answer is because I don’t allow it: it interrupts the pace of our walk, it’s rude, and it focuses the dog’s mind on something other than me.

The long answer is a little bit more involved, and it probably doesn’t lessen the mean looks in the long run.

In a good working relationship, a dog looks to it’s owner as a pack leader. Ideally, the relationship is one where the dog has been allowed to learn by reinforcement, as well as mistakes and fair corrections, so that the dog is not afraid of misbehaving so much as it is confident that any decision that it does make will be a good one because it knows where the boundaries of “bad” behavior lay. Because the dog learns that it is not in charge, it then assumes a more submissive, albeit confident, role as a happy, secure, loyal pet who will do just about anything for it’s owner.

Where marking comes into this is the need (drive) to claim something, be it an object, territory, or person. A dog who respects it’s leader and who is comfortable with that hierarchy should feel no need to desire anything such as what is achieved through a quick urine squirt, because there is no need for it. While on a walk (which is the most common activity to observe marking), a dog is co-operating in an activity that bonds it closer to it’s owner: the owner leads, determines which path will be followed, determines what stops will be made and when, and the dog gains attention (reinforcement) by keeping a focus on these activities. I don’t mean that the dog should be keeping a full eye-contact competition heel the entire time; indeed, a walk should be relaxing (even the portions where the dog is asked to do obedience exercises) and the dog should be allowed to notice what’s going on around it, but without going too far forward or lagging too far behind it’s person.

I’ll cover in a later blog how and why, when taught correctly, this is actually beneficial for the dog in terms of mental exercise.

By going off to sniff an object with the intention of marking, the dog is indicating a certain lack of respect for the person by going outside the expectations of what is considered good behavior. Whether this happens in the home on the corner of a couch or a toy, or outside on a bush or tree, it’s behavior that I consider unnecessary if the dog has a good working relationship with it’s leader. While this behavior, such as the likes of jumping, digging, chewing, mouthing, etc is natural to dogs, it is not something that I want my dog doing: we consider it no problem to curb other such behaviors in the interest of teaching respect for humans, and when taught appropriately, the dog doesn’t suffer in any way by NOT being allowed to perform those behaviors (provided it is given an effective outlet for those affected by activity!). As such, to deny my dog the opportunity to mark is not taking away any part of his manhood, nor is it depriving him of what some overly emotional types consider “just being a dog.” As a matter of consequence, I like to consider that the majority of well-trained dogs who respect their pack leaders are truly more dog-like and live fuller lives than those who are allowed to rule the house, treated as commodities (here’s lookin’ at you, Hollywood!), or live outside 24/7, among other circumstances.

In regards to marking during a walk, it is no doubt an annoyance for owners to have to stop at every tree or bush and give it the old sniff-n-squirt. While a walk should be relaxing, it should also have a rhythm to it. It should have direction, a purpose and the intent to go somewhere, even though most of them start out and end at the same exact point. It should be relaxing, fun and focused, allowing for the benefits of both physical and mental exercise. I want a dog’s brain to work with me and make it’s own decisions. While going off to mark a tree indicates a degree of independence prided by some owners (“Oh look, he’s doing his own thing! Such a big boy!”), it is not an activity the dog should feel pressed to do–as if the every tree he doesn’t visit will turn into some demon if not calmed by the presence of a drop of urine. The almost-frantic frenzy dogs enter in an attempt to mark as many outdoor items as possible is visible to a lot of people, but the obsessiveness of the behavior isn’t so obvious to those who insist that it is a part of their daily excursion.

In some cases, this is actually quite rude to allow a dog to mark. As with breaking the heel position while out on walks, it indicates a lack of respect for the pack leader’s domicile and possessions, as well as those of others. I see this often with dogs on extendable leads: he is frequently allowed to stray from the sidewalk onto someone’s property, often right up to the house itself, and mark at will what is officially that of someone else’s. Even marking bushes next to the sidewalk is rude if they are obviously part of a landscape arrangement: dog urine, while known for causing brown spots in the lawn, can also ruin parts of plants if applied too often. The poor little boxwood out front has certainly seen quite a few lifted legs!

Might one argue that, if no urine application is desired, we might just avoid putting such plants in proximity of the sidewalk? It’s possible, but implausible. The land that my family paid for is ours to play with; why should we cater to those who insist on allowing their dogs to use it as their personal toilet or target range? It’s easy for someone to pick up any poo piles that might occur–quite naturally might I add–and it’s even easier for a responsible owner to prevent a dog from marking, even if it’s attached to an extendable leash; however, with most of these owners, it’s quite difficult to get through the idea that it’s the right thing to do!

The drive to mark is not just a male thing. Females do it too, although it is not as commonly seen because they tend to overmark more flat surfaces, and some do not even lift a leg while doing do. While neutering can fix the behavior, oftentimes it is something that has become a behavioral habit for the dog, and this is where the benefit of correction comes into the picture: just as we correct a dog for jumping (and subsequently reward him when he does not), we can correct a dog for marking (although the reward might not be as overt as the one for not jumping). Even intact dogs can learn to not mark, although this might take some effort if intact bitches are present. It’s not impossible as some people seem to moan and groan about; the dog simply needs to learn respect for it’s pack leader, and the boundaries within which it may act and the consequences that come from both misbehaviors as well as good behaviors! This is what truly makes a dog, a dog…and that is indeed the best kind of companion to have by your side!